Thinking About an Expedition

I’ve been thinking about a Tennessee expedition for at least two, three years, now.  Two of them come readily to mind, although I’m still not clear on whether or what degree of support is needed.  Not too far away from here are the fabled sources of both the Elk and Duck rivers.  Neither river is famous for its commercial value, except in a couple of locations to canoe-float outfitters.  Both have been dammed in one or two places to create lakes used for fishing and other recreational purposes.  The Duck River is contained entirely within the State of Tennessee; the Elk’s course takes it over the state’s southern border and down into Alabama.

The feasibility of hiking, pedaling, and canoeing or kayaking the entire length of the Duck is at present an unknown.  There’s a guy in the UK who’s done something like that – his website takes a while to load, but is pretty cool and worth seeing/reading.  Slingshot Bikes of Michigan produces a foldable, full-size mountain bike that could be stowed aboard a canoe for those parts of the journey that could be completed by canoe.  It’s conceivable that a foldable, stowable trailer could allow the canoe and gear to be pulled with the bicycle overland, or trailered canoe with bike stowed could be pulled by hand where necessary.

Slingshot's folding, full-size mountain or all-terrain type bike

Slingshot’s folding, full-size mountain or all-terrain type bike

I did enter a competition to win the use of a Slingshot bicycle for a period of months, but I and others who posted more serious-minded entries lost out to a Canadian who called himself von Bubblegum and later changed his Facebook surname to Slingshot.  That was the “other venue” I mentioned in my post entitled “Three Years On Two Wheels.”  Ah, well, that’s how it goes.  A company’s got to make marketing decisions it hopes will maximize exposure and increase sales.  I wish the Canadian guy well.  Canada is probably a great market for these bikes, not all of which are foldables.

Another Duck River Expedition Above Normandy Lake

Lunch Stop

This is the place I stopped for lunch upstream the first bridge above the Fire Lake boat ramp. At 9:37 am, I was already hungry.

Pionier 450 s Bow

Already out of the boat, it occurred to me this was a convenient place to take some photos of the Pionier on the water. I had just walked the boat up past that branch across the stream in the background.


Front left three-quarter view Pionier 450 S


Pionier 450 S right rear three quarter view


Pionier 450 S seen from astern


Photo of the Pionier's back deck with logo. After I took this picture, I pushed the boat in to deeper water and practiced cowboy re-entry. Worked okay, but deck rigging would be nice for holding the paddle.


Here's what that pool looked like where I took the boat pictures. At far right frame you can see where I walked the boat up through and over that fallen wood.


Paddling up past that first pool. A lot of fish up there visible under the clear green water. They didn't take much notice of me in the kayak. My guess is, the area's not been fished much.


Here I'm standing upstream that discarded tire and looking back. This is as far as I got because the water for the next stretch was only about ankle deep. I didn't see much point in dragging the kayak a quarter mile over slimy rocky bottom. Walking the boat back down to where I could again paddle, I slipped and fell in a couple of times.


Paddling back to the pool pictured earlier.


Here I am paddling back just below that pool where I took all those boat pictures. At left is the gravely bank holding the pool in. Ahead is the fallen tree I had to paddle under on my way upstream. The only passage is at far right.


I'd never before seen that flaky-looking bark on the fallen tree. A little farther right was enough space to paddle under and enough water to paddle over the fallen tree's trunk and branches.


This stretch I referred to in 2008 as Duck River Stairs. I was not able to paddle up this far, and photographed the rock upon which I sat to eat my lunch on that drizzly June day.


It was easy to see at the time, but it doesn't show up well here - I was trying to photograph what looked like a pile of water I was pushing downstream ahead of me.


At this point, too far upstream and too shallow for any bassboaters or jet-skiers, the still water was marked with a lot of white feathers.


I stopped here at an isthmus not far from the boat ramp in mid-afternoon because I badly needed to stretch my back. Here's where I ate what was left of my lunch - trail mix, a few pretzl sticks, and drank some water and way-past-expiration-date Gatorade. This could have been a cool photo, but I spoiled it by leaving my hat on the foredeck.

Back in June of 2008, on a drizzly day, I put in at Fire Lake boat ramp on Normandy Lake and paddled as far upstream the Duck as I could get.  I made it to point where Cat Creek joins the Duck, but beyond that, the river extended uphill in a sort of shallow spillway like a set of broad steps curving away to my right.  I dragged Campsis Radicans, my Pouch E68, up to a flat rock large enough to serve as bench and lunch table.  That post is here.

In this post, I am experimenting with use of a table to organize my photos.  Seems to be working okay.

On Sunday 8/8/10, I skipped worship service and went paddling.  A hot day with a heat index of about a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, I paddled about 14 miles in Ga-Gong or Gongol (my son’s word for “water”) my 1962 Pionier 450-S.  Great boat.  However, its aging hullskin is not as abrasion resistant as it perhaps once was.  The keelstrip I affixed has helped some, but I’m going to have to refrain from taking this boat on any more shallow, rocky expeditions.

That’s it for today.


Also at the isthmus was this day camp. Instead of being inhabited by sireens, it was the work of a couple of fishermen who reminded me slightly of a pair of assassins from an old James Bond film, but were pleasant enough to talk to.

Duck River Above Henry Horton State Park


On Friday 4 June I finished up a bunch of deadline stuff and drove home about 11:40 pm, conked out by 12:15 am Saturday morning.  Saturday slept late, then got up, ran the line-trimmer, mowed, cleaned up. 

Seventy-Six and I spent a lot of time wrestling, playing with toys, playing outside.  Then we assembled the RZ96 so it would be ready to take to Henry Horton State Park on Sunday for a picnic send-off for a young cousin joining the USMC.  After several breaks during which we ran around the yard, threw basketballs at a small goal, played with trucks, chased each other around trees in the yard, and rang the front door-bell to see if Caution-Lady would come to the window and say “Hello,” we completed the assembly and I let Seventy-Six play in the boat.  I assembled and packed the necessary gear for a day on the water and packed it in Thursday’s trunk (I’ve found it is impossible to get the car’s trunk open enough to load anything with a boat on the roof-racks).

Back at the house after worship service Sunday, I got the >100# behemoth up on to the car’s roof using a simple method suggested by Ralph Hoehn.  I opened the front passenger door, rested the bow thereon, then lifted the stern and using simple leverage lifted it and set it across the rear rack.  Then I moved the bow on to the front rack, straightened the boat and secured it.  No need for complicated systems of rollers and pulley’s. 

The car’s handling does not seem much affected by carrying a boat on its racks.  I always transport the assembled RZ96 hull-up because the frame seems stoutest at the coaming, and the ends sag downward if the boat’s on the racks hull-down.  Also keeps rain out of the boat, and it rained a lot Sunday afternoon before we were able to launch at the state park.

After visiting, trying to keep Seventy-Six from getting too filthy jumping in puddles or too soaked playing in the intermittent downpours,  a lunch of hot-dogs, hamburger’s, side-dishes, and dessert, it was time to launch.  The banks of the Duck River are steep at Henry Horton State Park, certainly too steep to carry down to the water from our picnic site by the Highway 31-A bridge. 

The gravel, asphalt, and mud track that provides river access to folks with trailered boats didn’t look like it had a turnaround at the bottom, so I backed the car up to the road again and parked in the grass at the top.  My cousin and I got the boat off the racks, I got pfds, paddles, water shoes, and so forth, out of the trunk.  Shoes changed, we carried the boat down to the water accompanied by my young cousin’s girlfriend, and another cousin.

After brief discussion, we decided to paddle upstream and return with the current, as opposed to paddling downstream to the point nearest our picnic area by the bridge.  That was probably a mistake, because the current was not terribly swift, and we found we had no trouble paddling upstream against it from the put-in.

 Just-Upstream-the-Put-In Duck-River-BluffsRZ96-BowWild-RootsOther-PaddlersMore-Duck-River-Bluffs

While on the water, we saw a number of other paddlers, some, like those pictured above, traveled with children and towed water toys behind them for occasional stops to allow the kids to play in the water.  Most appeared to be paddling rental boats – red, green, yellow canoes and sit-on-top kayaks.  We passed a disused yellow rope-swing overhanging the water on our right.  On our left, further upstream, we observed some jumping into the river from a rock face about 20 feet up.  We came to a shallow rapids and had to get out of the boat to pull and carry it over the shallow rocky bottom.  I think it may have been there that we unknowingly brought the hull in to contact with some object incompatible to its continued integrity.  At the time, however, we noticed nothing amiss.  After the rapids, we got back in and continued to paddle.  We saw floating downstream what appeared to be a family group on inflatable pool lounges rafted-up to an approximately 12 foot flat-bottomed aluminum river punt.

After reaching a point where it seemed like we’d been away from the picnic long enough, we turned around and headed back to the put in.  We noticed a lot of water in the bilge, and I remember saying I didn’t think paddle splash or the water we’d brought in to the boat in our shoes when we got back in after walking the boat upstream the rapids would account for its volume.  At the put in, we discovered the means by which the water entered the boat.

The surprising thing is that I’ve paddled this boat over shallow rocky bottoms, struck submerged rocks and stumps with it, dragged it over dead tree limbs blocking passage, etc., with never a problems.

Following are a few dramatic photographs for shock value.  I’m going to try to repair the tear this week while the hullskin is already conveniently stretched upon the boat’s frame.     




A note about names:  I tend not to use real names of family members and friends online – it’s bad Internet hygiene.

Duck River above Normandy Lake

This shallow vista greeted me as I approached the place I'd have to wade
A shallow water vista

My photos from this trip are here.

This part of Tennessee has had no appreciable rain this month. The grass in my yard has been crunching when I walk on it. Yesterday evening, after a quick supper, I mowed the front yard. I really shouldn’t have, but the grass was growing too high in places. Then I loaded the car with gear still ready from last weekend’s aborted mission, and put Campsis Radicans on the 850’s racks.

I left the house not as early as I wanted, but by about 6:20 am. I got stuck behind a cement mixer at a four way stop near Toliver Lake, but managed to get on the water by about 7:00 am.

00 am this morning
Fire Lake Boat Ramp, a little before 7:00 am

Almost as soon as I started, my shoulder hurt, and I thought I would make no more than four miles before having to turn back. Since I wasn’t going to be on the water long, I began experimenting with forward stroke. Remembering my lesson from the Elk River, I made conscious effort to hold the paddle farther in front of my torso than is my tendency. I tried an almost side-to-side stroke, plunging the paddle deeper while keeping my hands relatively low, maybe chin-level. To my surprise, that stroke resulted in forward motion. With a little torso rotation, footwork, and ab-crunching, I was able to make speed without pain. At a couple of points, I felt my elbows tug, so I adjusted my stroke until I lost that sensation I figured would become tendonitis if left unchecked. I worked on sitting up straighter, and leaning slightly forward from the bottom of my spine. Forgotten was any early turnaround.

My goal today was to put in at Fire Lake boat ramp on Normandy Lake, and paddle as far upstream the Duck River as I could get. I hoped I’d make it as far as Old Stone Fort, but really knew that was unlikely. A year or two ago, my friend Andes and I made the same trip, but didn’t get as far. At the time, we reckoned we’d made it as far as Cat Creek, but comparing my observations today with a topo map, I think we gave ourselves too much credit. Cat Creek’s as far as I think I got today. Maybe an 18 mile roundtrip, possibly a little more distance. Dunno for sure, as I don’t have a GPS, and rely upon the distance tool on the Tennessee Landforms website.

Washboard Waterfall
Washboard Waterfall

Past the bridge I drove in over from Highway 55 I encountered no other boats. At a waterfall that appeared to drip flat on washboard surfaced rock, I saw two small yellow birds that might have been hummingbirds, by the way they moved, but looked the size of small finches. We have some yellow finches hereabouts. I saw a gar swim past me, break the surface, then swim away. The water rapidly becomes shallower there, and stumps, logs, other hazards make it difficult for power boats within about a mile and a half upstream from that bridge. Not much past that, my paddle began scraping bottom. At one point my rudder scraped rocks making a metal-clanging, grating sound.

White wading birds fed on things I could not see along the muddy, gravely water’s edge. They had a body type like Great Blue Herons, but were smaller, and tended to stay in groups of two to six. I saw a flock of black-headed buzzards, as I was coming and going.

Like the Elk River, exploration of the Duck required me to get out of the kayak and tow it behind like a child’s red wagon. Once past the wading, I was able to get back into the boat and paddle a part of the river I’d guess rarely gets any waterborne traffic. I saw large, maybe foot and a half long fish in shallow water beside a partly submerged stump. It hung like an airplane shaped helium balloon hardly moving as I paddled past. I saw dirt tracks used, I’d guess, by locals riding four-wheelers.

Rain fell as I paddled up the channel of the Duck, and as I waded with Campsis Radicans in tow. Even in a downpour, the E68 doesn’t fill up with water, and compared to the last time it rained while I was on the water, today’s shower was a gentle mist. Still, it was pleasant, and the area needs rain.

Looking upstream, Duck River
Looking upstream, Duck River
Looking upstream Cat Creek

Looking upstream Cat Creek

I paddled to a fork – what I now believe was Cat Creek lay too shallow for paddling on my right, and the Duck, like a long, low staircase ran swift and shallow over slippery rocks to my left. I waded, towing the boat, up each branch as far as seemed reasonable. Cat Creek first (although at the time, I thought both streams were part of the same with an island between them), then the Duck. I sat on a chair-height rock on the Duck using Campsis Radicans’ foredeck as a table, and ate my lunch. Then packed up and headed back downstream.

Lunch Stop

Lunch Stop

At Crumpton Creek, I thought about turning left and re-exploring that branch. It has been probably three years since Mike, his son Jesse, and I paddled the strange green, then clear waters there, below Rutledge Falls.

As I neared the boat ramp, I encountered two or three jet-skiis. That just doesn’t look like fun to me. And the expense. You never stop paying for something like a jet-ski. Spoke with a man launching his jet-ski at the boat ramp. He asked how far I’d gone, and I told him. Talked about the rain. About burning gas, burning calories. He said it was about 1:30 pm. The clock in my car said it was more like 2:20 pm. Another long day, and home.

Life in the stream

Life in the stream

35th TSRA Duck River Float

Yesterday’s TSRA Duck River Guest Float was a pleasant trip, met some new people, said “hello” to a couple I’ve met before. The group assembled at the Henry Horton State Park restaurant’s parking lot. I got there early because I wasn’t sure how fast I could safely drive with Campsis Radicans on the Volvo’s roof racks. Turns out I can drive about 65 to 70 miles per hour without mishap, but tended to motor along at about 60 mph, 50 on the narrower roads.

I wasn’t the first to arrive. When I pulled up a woman with a European accent named, I think, Christine, was inflating and rigging a white tandem boat for herself and her daughter, a child of about nine whose name I never did hear. Don and Jeffrey from Paddlers for Christ showed up with four short kayaks on top of a white Dodge Caravan pulling a trailer. A couple from LaVergne pulled up next – Alison and Ken (apologies if I’ve got the names wrong – I have read Dale Carnegie’s book but have yet to get good at remembering names) with a couple of Old Town boats green and blue, all shiny and comfortable looking. Pointing to the green boat, Ken said, “That’s my Cadillac.” Jim and his wife, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, showed up about then. I don’t recall Lynn showing up until right around 10:00 am. A couple in advanced middle-age brought their 15′ river canoe with end and middle float bags, spare paddles, reinforced with additional thwarts – a serious boat. Others brought sit-on-tops rented or owned. The state park rangers provided paddles, pfds, and about six ancient canoes that’d seen some hard use. Nat, a seasonal interpretive specialist, and another ranger whose name I didn’t catch, accompanied the group.

Frank Fly set up a small camp table he unrolled from a bag – I watched with interest thinking it looked like more trouble than it was worth to get a relatively hard surface, but probably more necessary for writing than for general camp use. Frank registered everyone, waivers were likewise distributed and signed.

That done, the group proceeded to the put in at, I think it was, Hardison Mill dam. I was proud my Volvo 850 had no trouble getting back up the rutted, dusty gravel and dirt road from the put in to the parking area. What a car. Once all the boats were ready to launch, Mr. Fly outlined the rules and we all launched and paddled up to have a look at the mill. The rules were something like:

1. Don’t get out of sight of the other boats

2. We’re not in a big hurry here, so don’t get impatient and race to the take-out

3. If your boat flips, save yourself and let someone else worry about getting your gear

4. PFDs are mandatory

5. We will take a lunch break of at least one hour – if you eat fast, you’ll just have to entertain yourself until the hour’s up and we’re all ready to go

6. Only two to a boat

I took too many pictures (and they can be found here), but like others hope that if I shoot a lot, at least a few will be worth keeping. I heard folks talking about Jimmy Carter’s attack rabbit, mussels, global warming and snow-sledding in Middle Tennessee. Sharon talked about being on the lake at Camp Buckner and some cadets screaming and paddling as fast as they could to get away from a snake that followed too quickly and close.

Christine’s daughter used a brightly colored parasol to keep off the sun. I didn’t get a good picture, but it was a quaint sight. We stopped while some of the group jumped off a tree-swing into the river, then just a little while later, for lunch on the cool, mossy banks of a nearly straight spring-fed creek. Paddling into the creek I felt cold rising heavy off its rushing surface. Temperature along the banks felt like 75 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the fellows, I think his name was Mark, brought his maybe 10 year old son along. The boy spied a small water-snake in the creek’s very cold water. It had diamond markings, but a blunt shaped head, so maybe was not poisonous.

I got well ahead of the main group of paddlers with some others. A lot of folks were on the river, many in the red River Rats canoes, a number of others in their own boats. Saw a couple of anglers in small motorized boats.

Past the River Rats take-out, the group I was more or less with stopped at gently sloping bank, swam, skimmed stones, and waited for the others. Nat, the UT guy working the summer as an park interpretive specialist (maybe another job titled, but something like that) found and showed us a plant called Dutchman’s Pipe. All day I’d been seeing these little gray-blue moths or butterflies. One lit on my left hand between the knuckles of my fore and middle fingers. I was able to get a couple of pictures.

After what seemed like a long time, some of the others paddled into sight. Mr. Fly gently chided us for missing out on an interesting hole of uncertain depth. Paddling on, we came into sight of the bridge at the take-out beyond which lies the remains of a low-head dam and a class maybe 2 but probably 1 rapids or drop or whatever the people who know call them. Locals were jumping into the river from a much more elaborate tree-swing consisting of one line to haul to up the other line that is the swing. The swing terminated in a chrome set of moto-cross bicycle handlebars. As I paddled into view, a kid in his teens was air-borne, and executed a flip before hitting the water.

Rangers were waiting for us at the take-out under the bridge. Some of us ran the rapids. I paddled up to them, but turned away thinking that would add to the distance I’d have to haul my boat up the hill to the parking area. Don asked if I’d use his camera to shoot some photos, and I did. His camera’s memory card must’ve been nearly full because its LCD display flashed a no-more-pictures message. I took a few with my own aged Pentax Optio WR 3.2. Shutter’s so slow I didn’t know what I’d capture. Got a few pictures.

We loaded into a van driven by Randy, head ranger at Henry Horton State Park, and were taken back to the put-in to retrieve our cars. Alison and I talked about our babies on the ride. She and Ken have a little one, five months old, named Rose. We talked about baby life-jackets, parenthood, baby bug-spray and sunscreen.

I had no idea how to get back to the take-out. Fortunately, I’d gotten to my car quickly and was able to follow Mr. Fly, who fairly flew (45 mph felt fast on these roads), down a different route of unfamiliar, narrow roads back. Once again, Thursday the 850 acquitted itself well, easily negotiated the rough dirt track down under the bridge. Only thing about this trip that struck me as problematic was lack of organized return to the take-out. Two of our number, Alison and Lynn, got lost – I was able to see Frank turn right, but Alison, who was behind me, went straight. Both of them eventually got back to where Ken was waiting by the boats.

Editing when I find the time – If I’ve got names mixed up, sorry and feel free to comment

Float the Duck River

2005, we floated the Duck from Cortner Mill to Dement Bridge, an easy, fun excursion with my wife and some friends

Summer 2005, between Cortner Mill & Dement Bridge

This Saturday, 7 June, the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association is sponsoring an 8-mile float down part of Tennessee’s Duck River. The Duck is the longest river contained entirely within the borders of the State of Tennessee. I’ve paddled it in Bedford County both below and above Normandy Dam, but have never put in near Henry Horton State Park. Yeah, me too. Every time I hear that name, I think, “Dr. Seuss?” or, “Hoo?”


This is a pleasant float for paddlers of all ability levels, and is an excellent opportunity for beginners to gain experience on a river prior to canoe school. This member-guest float is designed to promote canoeing, TSRA, and the Duck River.

The float is approximately 8 miles from the put-in near Verona Road off Highway 99 to the take-out at Highway 431, where a beautiful Class I rapid can be run repeatedly. Bring lunch in a water-proof container. Life jackets are required and a limit of two persons per canoe, with the exception of small children.

Canoes, paddles, and life jackets can be reserved by calling the Rangers at Henry Horton State Park at (931)364-7724. Camping and rooms are available at Henry Horton State Park on Highway 31-A approximately 50 miles South of Nashville.

Meet at the restaurant parking lot at Henry Horton State Park at 10:00 a.m. Central Time. From Interstate 65 South of Nashville take Highway 412 (99) East to Highway 31-A and turn right.

Pre-registration is not required. Please come!

Contact information can be found at